Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a widely celebrated holiday in Mexico and has been growing in popularity here in the U.S. It gets its roots from ancient Aztec traditions honoring death. Day of the Dead is a celebration of family and ancestors. From October 31st to November 2nd, spirits from the afterlife return to visit their loved ones who celebrate the return of the spirits and ancestors with delicious food and visits to the grave sites in festive attire.
Many families plan a welcome home fiesta for the spirits of their loved ones, who they invite to enjoy the altar, listen to festive music and visit with family as they celebrate. It is believed that a slight breeze, a beautiful butterfly, or even a hummingbird can carry their spirit. Sugar skulls, also known as Calaveras or calaveritas de azucar, are among the most recognizable part of traditional Día de los Muertos displays.These sugar skulls are often elaborately decorated with glitter, sequins and jewels. They have become a symbol of the Day of the Dead and play an important role in the celebration, as many families gift the children tiny skulls to enjoy at the fiesta.
The ofrenda (the altar), traditionally includes yellow marigolds (cempasuchil). It is believed that the sweet scent leads the departed home toward their altar, water, photos, and favorite foods and drinks. All ofrendas feature four important elements: Water, Wind, Fire and Earth. Earth is represented with food, Fire is represented by a candle, Wind is represented by colorful paper ornaments and there is always water for the journey. Ofrenda foods typically include bread, fruit, chocolate, or sweets and a dish representative of that person’s or family’s meals. Tamales and Atole (porridge) are very typical of both ofrendas and graveside displays. Pan de muerto, a special bread made with raisins, aniseed or orange blossom water, are shaped into rounds, topped with dough formed into “bones” or crosses, then topped with sugar.
Día de los Muertos can be celebrated in many ways and can vary depending on your family’s traditions or where you’re from. Since I’m from South Texas, I like to incorporate oranges, grapefruit and lemons as they’re representative of my family’s unique heritage. The celebration of Día de los Muertos is something near and dear to my heart. I recently had the opportunity to host a local Day of the Dead event to share the true beauty of holiday with some of my dearest friends. Several local chefs were invited to created recipes that celebrate their loved ones. I shared a cocktail to honor my abuelito. Local artists also walked our guests through the process of creating their own traditional altar at home. It was a truly incredible event.
Check out three Day of the Dead recipes to make this year.